Good writers write what they know. Jon Buchan knows South Carolina,
its people, its politics (for better but mostly worse), race relations,
tobacco, newspapers and the law, and he has skillfully woven all of these
elements into The Code of the Forest.
Set in Georgetown, Code
tells a tale of corruption and the personal challenges of those who would
confront it in the pages of a newspaper and in court.
If you are a South Carolinian, whether for a lifetime or a month, you will
know state Sen. Buck Ravenel, his son Tripp, the head of the state’s
environmental regulation department, Judge Dupree Jones, and newspaper editor
and publisher Wade McNabb. If you’re lucky you also know former corporate
lawyer Kate Stewart and young, energetic reporter Sandy Anderson. You
might even have had a drink in a bar like Sliders Oyster Bar run by Bobo Baxter
who can quote beach music and rock and roll lyrics “the way a Southern Baptist
preacher cites scripture.”
Chances are, unless you are African-American, or particularly sensitive, you
have been served by, but probably didn’t take more than passing notice of chef
Dewey “Do-Right” Wright or his nephew Cole Wright, an aspiring law student,
paralegal and fill-in waiter at a hunting and fishing retreat for the powerful
and connected in South Carolina’s “bidness” community.
The story focuses on a libel case, a confidential source, the potential loss
of a newspaper and the threat of environmental degradation of coastal wetlands
by a phosphate mining company. Sidebars explore personal and familial
relationships and reveal how each of us in a small state is connected by all
that and has gone before.
Is the story true? No, but it conveys truth. And, as we know,
the truth will set you free.
Buchan is a native of Mullins, a former newspaper reporter and editor, and
for many years a lawyer representing North Carolina newspapers facing some of
the challenges presented in Code.
For the last couple of years South Carolina has supplied ample material for
the Daily Show and for South
Carolina native Stephen Colbert’s The
Colbert Report. Buchan’s book might not make you laugh at our
situation like these TV shows, but, like those shows, the book forces us to
acknowledge that the picture presented is very close to reality.
Besides, you pick this book up, you’ll have a hard time putting it down
until you have finished page 362.
Code of the Forest published
by Joggling Board Press, $24.99.
Jay Bender is the Reid Montgomery
Professor of Journalism at the University of South Carolina and a media
attorney representing the S.C. Press Association.